Wednesday 11 January 2023

Fen-style garlic slow braised aubergines with hand smashed noodles

Inspired by a naughty lunch delivered to my work place from Fen noodles in Old Spitalfield Market, I aspired to recreate their glorious and unctuous garlic aubergine and hand pulled noodles.  One of my vegan pals had really loved it and it was their birthday this week, so I thought I'd have a go at home and bring some in for them.

Serves 4 - 6


3 to 4 medium aubergines (yes, it's a lot - it shrinks down)

1 to 2 TABLESPOONS of finely chopped garlic (yes, it's a lot, it is honestly not overpowering

1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

1 tablespoon lao gan ma crispy chilli oil or chilli bean paste

crushed chillies (optional) 

2-3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar, or rice vinegar with dumpling dipping sauce mixed

2 tablespoons ground nut oil (or more as needed)

some spring onions, finely sliced, divided into white and green parts.

350 - 500g dried lasagne sheets 

Side note about garlic:  I usually buy peeled garlic cloves in bulk from Costco or Booker and then chop half in a food chopper/processor and freeze it and I freeze the unchopped garlic separately also.  If you can be bothered, you can freeze the chopped garlic in ice cube trays initially and then pop them out into bags, but I can't usually be bothered and I don't like the garlic residue on the ice cube trays (yes, I've tried keeping some separate just for this purpose but that really only works if you live alone as no-one in a family or house share listens to these sorts of rules) and I quite like smashing up the frozen lumps of chopped garlic to get however much I need.  It's cathartic.

I start by cubing up the aubergine and heating the oil and frying the aubergine at quite a high heat.  Unless you have a catering size wok, you may need to do this in batches until the cubes are nicely browned on all sides and the skins look browner rather than purple.

Once they all fit in the wok at once, add the garlic, the white part of the spring onion and the salt. and then continue to stir and toss so that the garlic doesn't catch or burn.  Once the garlic is soft, and the aubergine is starting to collapse on itself, add the chilli paste (either lao gan ma or chilli bean paste - I've seen both in supermarkets) and stir well, coating all the cubes with the shiny, red oil with its deliciously savoury chilli or soybean and chilli bits.  You may wish to add some crushed chillies at this point, it rather depends on your tolerance and the fierceness of your chilli paste.

Once it is all nicely mixed, add the soy sauce and vinegar, pouring around the edge and tossing it all well.  

Now, reduce the heat and let the aubergine cook down.

Now for the carb element.  I really liked the hand pulled noodles we had from Fen.  I do not, however, have the time or energy - or even inclination on a weekday - to make hand pulled noodles myself, but I really wanted to get that chewy, irregular pasta/noodle mouthfeel.  Inspiration struck me quite literally when a box of dried lasagne sheets fell out of the larder onto me! I got the kids to break the sheets up into irregular pieces and then I cooked the pieces in plenty of salted water just as I would any other pasta shape.

Once they were done - around 11 mins - I used a slotted scoop and tongs to lift them out of the water and drop them straight into the aubergine (once that was done).  I mixed them all together and scattered the green part of the spring onions on top and served!  If I had needed to, I could have used some of the noodle cooking water to lubricate the dish, but it wasn't needed this time.

Now, it wasn't anywhere near as FIERCELY spicy as the Fen noodles one, but we all loved it, and my pal was over the moon (despite the moderated chilli levels) and said it was an amazing birthday gift!